This Sunday Chicago DSA’s Red Ed Working Group is hosting a reading group discussion on Harold Washington. While not explicitly socialist, Washington was drafted from a grassroots effort to take on the Democratic machine in Chicago, and we can learn much from his campaign as CDSA approaches the 2019 Mayoral and Aldermanic elections, and as we continue to build on the momentum of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ amazing victory earlier in the summer, among others. The event will also feature guest speakers who worked on the Washington campaign firsthand.
Harold Washington served as Mayor of Chicago from the Spring of 1983 till his death in the fall of 1987, just a few months after being elected to a second term. He suffered a heart attack and died just a suddenly as the former Mayor Richard J. Daley had about a decade earlier. Unlike Daley, the machine tyrant who ruled the city for some twenty years as both Mayor and Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party Central Committee, Washington was an underdog, “the people’s mayor”.
The city’s first and only black mayor, Washington was elected by a broad, multi-ethnic coalition whose roots in the city stretch back to Fred Hampton, the revolutionary socialist and Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panthers Party. Hampton first began organizing a “rainbow coalition” in the late 60s that was made up of ethnic street gangs turned thriving community-focused political organizations like the Young Lords, the Young Patriots, and Rising Up Angry. Hampton was only 21 years old when he was assassinated by the Chicago Police in collusion with the FBI.
Martin Luther King, Jr., assassinated a little over a year earlier, had spent much his last years organizing for fair housing in the deeply segregated Chicago, much to the dismay of Mayor Daley. King faced much opposition in Chicago, including from much of the city’s black aldermen, clergy, and entrenched elite. But in the challenge King saw opportunity. “If we can crack Chicago”, King said, “then we crack the world”. Black empowerment in Chicago, he proclaimed, “would take off like a prairie fire across the land.”
We’ll be reading and discussing a few short chapters from Gary Rivlin’s Fire on the Prairie, which draws its title from that King quote, and talk about the potential–and challenges–of building socialist power through electoral politics, especially so in a Democratic party stronghold like Chicago. Another supplemental reading we’ll be discussing is the article “Throwing Rocks on the Inside” by Timothy Wright about keeping a progressive administration like Harold’s progressive. Links to the reading can be found on the Facebook event page.
We’ll be meeting at 2PM this Sunday, August 19th at the office of In These Times at 2040 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Bucktown. UPDATE: Unfortunately, this Red Ed event has been cancelled, but will be rescheduled soon!